Shila and Chad Morris with Misty and Gary Young (Johnstone Studios)

At some point in your life, were you a 47%-er?

On the heels of a leaked videotape in which GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney spoke harshly of those who pay no federal income tax, some now-successful Americans have been stepping forward and publicly answering this question in the affirmative.

In his remarks, Romney identified the "47%" as those "who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it... These are people who pay no income tax."

It's widely recognized that Romney was alluding to a Tax Policy Center statistic revealing that, as of July 2011, 46.4% of Americans do not pay federal income taxes. He also seemed to be lumping that larger group in with the smaller set of Americans enrolled in programs such as SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), the Special Supplemental Nutritional Program for Women, Infants and Children (known as WIC), as well as Medicare, Medicaid and others.

Romney continued, saying of the 47% that, "I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

But, in fact, many of those who are today or were once in the 47% have practiced a great deal of personal responsibility and care for their lives, pulling themselves out of difficult circumstances.

Regardless of who you vote for this November, the fact stands that many Americans have received an important leg up from government assistance programs. Here are four.

From Rags to Restaurants

Misty Young, who owns four Squeeze In restaurants in California and Nevada, offers this tale from her days in the 47%: "Twenty-six years ago, my husband and I were on WIC and food stamps, standing in line for government cheese and chunky chicken in a big silver can. Our baby daughter was our everything," she says. The family lived in an area where gunshots, breaking windows, late-night fights, and sirens were the everyday sounds of the neighborhood.

"With the help of Pell grants, student loans and scholarships, I went to college, the first of the seven kids in my family to do so," she says. "I made progress. I went to work for a U.S. senator, then a state attorney general and a governor. The same government that helped me start helped me grow professionally. I went into the private sector and learned about business."

Today, Young and her family own four restaurants, and their business is growing. "We live in comfortable homes with no gunshots ringing out and we drive reliable cars," she says. "I was the 47%, and now I'm in the middle class .... I'm very, very thankful for the help I received and do my best to 'pay it forward' with jobs, health insurance to my eligible associates and a generous and giving approach to life."

And that baby daughter? She's a business partner in the family enterprise. Now grown up, Shila Morris says her parents' tale is an "amazing triumph and example of the American Dream."

"The overall tone of my growing up was constant improvement and increasing success," says Shila, "and it's yet to stop."

From Childhood Hunger to the Middle Class

Olivia Ghafoerkhan of Dale City, Va., says she was also once part of the 47%, when she was growing up in a trailer in north Florida with her mother and sister.

"Looking back, it's hard to pinpoint for certain if my story is one of abuse, or poverty," says Ghafoerkhan. "My mother received $600 a month in child support, and did not receive any other assistance at that time. There was food in the kitchen, but how much? I think now she decided to not feed me in order to feed my sister, who is 11 years younger than me."

The free breakfast and lunch program at school was an important source of food for Ghafoerkhan. "But if the bus was late in the morning, as it often was, I wouldn't get breakfast," she says. "Or if I got in line for lunch too late, there wouldn't be enough time to eat lunch. Occasionally I'd shove leftovers into my pockets as classmates watched and snickered."

Ghafoerkhan maintains that her teachers and the adults at her church -- she was baptized into the Mormon Church at 15 -- were also important sources of help and support.

"Today, my life may seem pretty boring and mundane. I'm a stay-at-home mother with three children. I drive a minivan," she says. Until recently, "I've never really talked about my early life, my struggles when I was a teenager, but recently, I've been meeting a lot of people who question if hunger and poverty are really serious problems, and if the programs aimed at ending them really make a difference."

While her life today is far more comfortable, Ghafoerkhan hasn't left her past behind altogether, and she says she's glad to pay higher taxes, if necessary, to support the programs that helped her out of poverty.


Julianna BaggotBest-Selling Author: "We Represent the 47 Percent"

Julianna Baggott of Tallahassee, Fla., watched the leaked tape and felt that Romney's depiction of those "struggling to make ends meet," as she puts it, was wrong and sad.

"The reality is, most people don't stay on government assistance forever," says Baggott. "The 47% isn't even necessarily the poor. It's soldiers, those on disability, and those who consider themselves middle class."

The best-selling author and Florida State University associate professor was inspired to start a blog, We Represent the 47 Percent, her first foray into political activism. There, she posted her own open-letter style response and responses from fellow writers, including Pulitzer Prize winners Richard Russo and Connie Shultz, as well as contributions from teachers and members of the military. Some of the posts are charged with political anger, while others are wrenching accounts of childhood poverty.

Baggott says, "What we're hoping for is to humanize the 47% ... I believe that there's an instinct to blame those on government assistance. It's a way to distance yourself. If the poor are poor because it's their fault then we don't have to worry about them -- or ourselves."

Though Baggott is now successful -- her most recent novel, the young adult thriller "Pure," has sold in 15 countries and is in development with movie studio Fox 2000 -- the author is no stranger to money struggles.

When she and her husband, Dave Scott, were first married, they earned very little, had student loans to repay, and two young children to raise. For about four years, Baggott says, her family paid payroll taxes, but not income taxes.

"My husband was making $17,000 as an editor of small-town weekly newspaper in Delaware. I was at home with two children. We rented out rooms to foreign students, and I provided breakfast and dinner to them. We gave up things like privacy and dignity to help make ends meet," Baggott recalls.

Nowadays, Baggott finds herself "squarely in the 53%" but maintains of her early struggles that "it was important for me to grow my empathy in that way."

Lisa MilicajFrom Food Stamps to a GOP Political Career

In the late 1990s, Lisa Milicaj of Pleasant Valley, N.Y., found herself on food stamps for about two years. "I had left an abusive arranged marriage and was in in such financial disarray, so I applied," Milicaj says, "and I would have to say it was the lowest point of my life."

"It was very difficult to survive on what was provided and the waiting list was extremely long (years) to be able to get any other additional assistance," says Milicaj. Eventually, she found a job on her own and started making ends meet.

Today, this mother of three not only owns her own insurance agency -- "I started my own company almost five years to the day after coming off of public assistance," she says -- she was also recently elected to her town council. Of her entry into the political world, she says: "I had a full time job, I just wanted to make a difference."

A Republican and a Romney supporter, Milicaj is concerned about abuses of government assistance programs. But, she also says, "My views are that without a doubt government assistance is important. This should be used when there is absolutely no other way to survive, but not used when [one] can stand up on their own. There are some people that are truly disabled and just cannot provide for themselves and understandably, in these types of severe circumstances, it is necessary."

What's your take, DailyFinance reader? If you are now or used to be a member of the 47%, share your story in the comments section below.

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105 Comments

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Arlene

Our father died of a massive heart attack at 47. My brother (almost 7) and I (almost 4) thankfully received Social Security Dependent assistance. Had it not been for the government, for sure he and I would have been in foster care....without both parents. As it was, sometimes there was not enough food at home and several times not enough heat to warm the NJ winters. Still, we grew up just fine and have been paying our federal, state, local, sales, etc., taxes for many, many years. As did my widowed mother.
As for imalibnow2.....you are a jackass.

October 05 2012 at 12:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Arlene's comment
t_trevor1

Thank you for sharing your story illustrating the kind of pain and suffering Socialist Insecurity inflicts upon citizens.

Just imagine if your father had taken the fruits of his labor that were stolen from him to force him into the failed ponzi scheme, and instead bought a $3 million term life insurance policy. Then what was left over could have been invested building a nest egg.

It's hard enough experiencing the misfortune of losing a parent as a young child, but for the government goons to pour salt in the wound by forcing the deceased children into a life of poverty is nothing short of disgusting.

October 06 2012 at 4:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Rob

You cannot paint the entire population that falls into the 47% with a broad brush. If the 47% is defined as those who pay no income tax and those that receive government assistance it becomes more of a mish mash. Many families pay no income taxes due to earnings level but receive little or nothing in government assistance. There is a group of people who take advantage of government programs and lack of real oversight. These probably fall into the fraud category and should be rooted out.

I think the main concern is that the safety remains a safety net and not a way of life. I know many folks who have needed help at one time or another and received food stamps or other assistance. They did not stay there long and moved onto more successful endeavors. As long as that is the case I have no issue with a safety net. Lets keep it at that.

In terms though of the large population that are wage earners and earn more than the poverty level who pay no income tax, I think there should be some minimum tax paid. It does not need to be a lot but it should give them a sense that they also contribute to the cost of the government. I don't think there has ever been a time, since I stared working at the age of 14 that I did not pay something in income taxes as well as FICA and Medicare. I know many people have tried to call those taxes but in essence they are payments towards those entitlement programs. Just because the political leaders raid those funds and spend them in the general fund does not make them income taxes.

October 03 2012 at 3:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
4EVAMORE

A Republican and a Romney supporter, Milicaj is concerned about abuses of government assistance programs. But, she also says, "My views are that without a doubt government assistance is important. This should be used when there is absolutely no other way to survive, but not used when [one] can stand up on their own. There are some people that are truly disabled and just cannot provide for themselves and understandably, in these types of severe circumstances, it is necessary."

This comes from someone that see's the abuse first hand and not like the liberals that close their eyes and want to make the world believe their lies.

October 03 2012 at 2:10 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
jwm347

We all know the guy around the block collecting 99 weeks of unemployment, while playing gold every morning not even thinking about finding a job until his benefits run out. Also, the food stamp collector who sell his cards to the local bar for cash and of course, my favorite, the disabilty scams. Wake up America!

October 03 2012 at 1:52 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
jwm347

We all know the guy around the block collecting 99 weeks of unemployment, while playing gold every morning not even thinking about finding a job until his benefits run out. Also, the food stamp collector who sell his cards to the local bar for cash and of course, my favorite, the disabilty scams. Wake up America!

October 03 2012 at 1:51 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
4EVAMORE

Misty Young, who owns four Squeeze In restaurants in California and Nevada, offers this tale from her days in the 47%: "Twenty-six years ago, my husband and I were on WIC and food stamps, standing in line for government cheese and chunky chicken in a big silver can. Our baby daughter was our everything," she says. The family lived in an area where gunshots, breaking windows, late-night fights, and sirens were the everyday sounds of the neighborhood.

"With the help of Pell grants, student loans and scholarships, I went to college, the first of the seven kids in my family to do so," she says. "I made progress.

What does that have to do with the current 47%? Absolutely nothing, good for them that they are finally able and willing to contribute.
Also if I were on welfare I would be able to have my own business, too. It is no secret that most people on welfare are cashing in and double dipping everyday.

October 03 2012 at 1:46 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
chris1011

Most of the economic growth periods of the past 70 years have been the result of new technologies discovered in he course of some large government effort (winning WWII, winning the Cold War space and arms races, exploring the sea bottom, mapping the human genome, etc.) Private sector "job creators" won't do it, preferring to make short term profits by drilling holes in the Earth to look for fuel for 200-year old technology or cutting down forests to stick build houses people can't afford using prehistoric technology.

In the absence of vigorous, public-funded pure science research our modern economy declines into...well, just take a look at today's financial news.

October 03 2012 at 1:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jspe7

So Lisa, who was got government assistance when she needed it, is now a Republican and wil vote for Mitt, saying she is worried about assistance abuse. Really? were you abusing the system, and if you were not, what makes you think that there are not MILLIONS of people in need of help, due to the worst recession since the Great depression. As usual, with the Republicans, they never talk about the welfare for the rich, and how they take advantage of the system, with their blue-suited millionaire tax lawyers
So it was OK when you needed it, but no good now. If Romney does win , just see what he will do to the poor and the needy, while passing MASSIVE tax cuts for the rich
Talk about biting the "hand that feeds you"-----a prime example

October 03 2012 at 1:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to jspe7's comment
rjmjlm711

Welfare the biggest failure in U.S history.

October 03 2012 at 1:58 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
4EVAMORE

Talk about biting the "hand that feeds you"-----a prime example
A prime example of the above statement is what got us in this mess in the first place.
The hand that feeds us should be us, not the gov.And if you realy thought about it, it is the rich that provide us with a living and not the gov. Without the rich the gov would have no money at all.
P.S. Another thing, it is you and I that make the rich rich and richer by buying their product and not by the gov holding back on taxing them. They have paid more than you and I will ever pay in a lifetime.
No I am not rich, but I am also not a devious envious person that bashes somebody because they have more than me.

October 03 2012 at 2:06 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
jeffscheibe

I would be more interested in someone exercising their journalistic prowess in finding out the "how manys" and the "how long" of the 47%. That is, how many have been receiving assistance for 3 months, 6 months, 12 months, 18 months, all their working life, etc. Then I would like to know how many have ever worked, how many have medical issues which prevent them from working, etc.

Simplistic stories aside, there's always much more to these stories that the 4th estate ought to get to work on.

October 03 2012 at 1:04 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jeffscheibe's comment
memaamber

I know a few vets that are disabled due to combat wounds , and most of them would be in 47%ers ,that most of you idiots lump in one big ball , Any of you posters vets ?

October 03 2012 at 4:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
atn1944

I honestly don't understand how anyone who received public assistance, until they could stand on their own, support Romney.

October 03 2012 at 11:43 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply